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William B. Miller, Neil S. Mattson, Xiaorong Xie, Danghui Xu, Christopher J. Currey, Kasey L. Clemens, Roberto G. Lopez, Michael Olrich and Erik S. Runkle

Ethephon [(2-chloroethyl) phosphonic acid] is a plant growth regulator that releases ethylene on application and can abort flowers, stimulate branching, and inhibit stem elongation. Although ethephon is used as a foliar spray during the commercial production of many ornamental crops, its effectiveness as a drench has not been widely investigated. We performed experiments to quantify the effects of an ethephon drench on growth and flowering of a range of bedding plant and Narcissus cultivars and to assess the effect of lime on ethylene release from a peat substrate. A substrate drench of 0, 100, 250, or 500 mg·L−1 ethephon was applied to 12 potted Narcissus cultivars at one location, and up to 200 mg·L−1 was applied to 24 cultivars of bedding plants at three locations. Compared with untreated controls, ethephon generally reduced plant height at flowering and the effect increased with increased concentration. For example, Narcissus treated with a 250 mg·L−1 ethephon drench had stems that were 20% to 40% shorter at the end of flowering than control plants. However, ethephon drenches generally caused a 2- to 3-day flowering delay, and two cultivars had a phytotoxic response. Among the bedding plants studied, a 100-mg·L−1 ethephon drench suppressed plant height at flowering by greater than 30% in Catharanthus, Celosia, Dianthus, and Verbena, but by only 10% to 15% in Lobelia, Lycopersicon, and Tagetes. The drenches also delayed flowering in 10 of the 16 crops measured and decreased dry mass accumulation in all of the crops measured. Ethephon release from peat substrate became maximal ≈120 h after application and was dramatically increased by incorporation of dolomitic lime up to a rate of 9.5 kg lime per m3 of peat. Collectively, these studies show that ethephon substrate drenches inhibit stem elongation in a broad range of floriculture crops, but can also delay flowering and reduce biomass accumulation.